Wikipedia states:

[African] population doubled in the period 1982–2009[4] and quadrupled from 1955–2009, according to United Nations estimates.

Is there a consensus on the causes behind this rapid growth in Africa? Specifically, I am interested in potential global and political factors and policies that (may) have impacted this phenomenon.

  • 5
    Better medicine and especially vaccination?
    – knut
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 21:46
  • @knut sure, but the same medical technology was available in e.g. Europe, yet the population growth there was significantly slower than in Africa, suggesting other factors (e.g. cultural). Or was it simply that Africa had no access to basic medicine before ~1950s, while Europe did and thus plateaued earlier?
    – w128
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 21:58
  • @w128: That is a bold assertion - can you actually substantiate it? Transportation costs of such delicate products was non-trivial until the 1950's and 1960's. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 22:37
  • @PieterGeerkens for example: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Africa-EU_-_key_statistical_indicators. However, a lot of what I heard and read on the subject (which isn't much) is of dubious credibility - hence this question; it is entirely plausible that my assertions are wrong, and I should've been clearer in that regard. Transportation costs certainly sound reasonable.
    – w128
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 22:57
  • The classical (high school level) explanation that I was given was that mortality rates (specially infant mortality) did decrease drastically, and that culturally it was common to have many children (because due to economic hardships the only way to have economical stability at the old age was being supported by one's children, and because the high mortality rate meant that families had to have many children to ensure that some survived). Not very different from Europe at the beginning of the XIXth, but in Europe improvements in medicine arrived slowly and were coupled with economical growth.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 23:43

2 Answers 2


One answer has been the control of tropical diseases such as malaria. In 2014, for instance, there were "only" 438,000 deaths worldwide, despite something like 214 million cases, mostly in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. This means that the death rate is relatively low compared to the "debilitation" rates, resulting in lost productivity and other problems.

The fastest growing countries of Africa (in terms of population) are mostly in the "belt" for malaria (and other diseases of hot, humid tropical climates), and include Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and others.

Unlike western countries, where birthrates dropped to match lower death rates, this has not happened yet in most of Africa for cultural reasons.

  • 1
    Not only cultural reasons, but also historical reasons : the demographic transition in Europe took place sooner, as medicine and hygiene were introduced sooner. (France had a shorter transition due to change in inheritance laws around the Revolution, but still had it). I'd change your last sentence to, at least, "Not happened yet"
    – MakorDal
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 6:56
  • I suspect the interesting comparison is between Asia and Africa, with both benefiting from improvements in global health but fertility falling faster in most of Asia than in most of Africa
    – Henry
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 17:27

There is something called "demographic transition": birth rates take some time to adequate to reduced mortality rate. For one generation at least, people keep reproducing as if mortality was still high, and population booms. Yes, it happened in Europe, in the late 19th century - which helps to explain the enormous European emigration to the "New World". It happened in Latin America in the second half of the 20th century. And it is happening in Africa now. So, cultural reasons, yes - but not cultural reasons that oppose Africa to Europe; cultural reasons that have to do with people being accustomed to have many children, otherwise none would survive to adult age, and taking some time to realize that this is no longer necessary.

Why do mortality rates fall?

Better sanitation, eradication of marshes and swamps, vaccines, antibiotics, better techniques to fight infant mortality, especially diarrhea, better understanding of why and how diseases spread.

Why do birth rates fall?

Contraceptives and pension systems (that make people able to maintain themselves in old age, and unnecessary to have an nth child just to take care of them at the end of their lives).

Additional notes:

In the specific case of Africa, there is also the fact that its population growth had been depressed for some three centuries by the slave trade. When the slave trade was abolished, in the mid 19th century, the population obviously rebounded.

Malaria was an endemic problem in Europe during centuries, up to WWII; its name comes directly from Latin not because Latin was the scientific language of European scientists from Renaissance on, but because Latin was the widespread language of the Roman Empire. So, while it is true that malaria originated in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is a "tropical disease" in that sense, it is not true that malaria is a "tropical disease" in the sense that temperate regions would be naturally protected from it due to a climate barrier.

  • I agree, hospitals and agriculture become effective at saving lives before economic development causes the birth rates fall. Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 7:57
  • 1
    @axsvl77 - Hospitals, agriculture, and perhaps most importantly, sewer systems. Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 18:36
  • 1
    Pesticides too have saved this lives Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 2:24

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